Overview of the Criminal Justice Process in Texas

Leander criminal defense lawyer explaining the Texas criminal justice system

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If you are facing a criminal charge, you’re going through a lot, and what you don’t know about the criminal justice process in Texas can leave you vulnerable to less than favorable results. The most important point to keep in mind is that you have legal rights that are well worth protecting and that an experienced Leander criminal lawyer can help.

Your Rights upon Arrest

If you are arrested or detained, you have important rights of which the police are required to inform you. It is essential that you remember your rights throughout the criminal defense process.

The Right to Remain Silent

You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to speak, anything you say can – and very likely will – be used against you. In fact, you may be surprised how damaging making an innocent statement or two can be to your case. Remaining silent until you have skilled legal representation in your corner is always to your advantage.

The Right to an Attorney

You also have the right to consult with a criminal defense attorney of your choosing – or to have an attorney appointed to you if you can’t afford one on your own. You also have the right to have your attorney present during any questioning.

Once you let the officers interviewing you know that you want an attorney, they should shut down the interview immediately – in accordance with the law.

Your First Appearance in Court

You'll have your first appearance before a judge within 48 hours of being arrested – barring weekends and holidays. At this appearance, the judge will inform you of the charge or charges against you, and at this juncture, they are required to share all of the following information with you:

  • You have the right to counsel.

  • You have the right to remain silent.

  • You have the right to have an attorney present during any interviews with the police or the prosecution.

  • You have the right to terminate such interviews at any time.

  • You have the right to an examining trial to establish probable cause for your arrest.

The judge is also required to set a reasonable bond and to afford you a reasonable amount of time to confer with your Leander criminal defense lawyer.

If You Can’t Post Bond

If you’re unable to post the bond set by the judge, the prosecution must officially charge you within the following time limits:

  • They have 15 days to charge you with a Class B misdemeanor.

  • They have 30 days to charge you with a Class A misdemeanor.

  • They have 90 days to charge you with a felony.

Once the appropriate time limit has passed, you must be released on your own recognizance. If you aren’t in jail, the prosecution has more leeway in terms of filing charges, which includes the following limitations:

  • Up to two years from the date of an alleged misdemeanor offense

  • A limit of 5, 7, or 10 years from the date of an alleged felony offense – depending upon the kind of charge

Once the time limitation passes, the case is dismissed and the prosecution is permanently barred from filing the charge. However, some very serious charges, like murder, sexual assault, and indecency with a child, have no filing limitations.

Types of Bonds

Bonds are designed to ensure that defendants show up for court. Bonds can be posted in more than one form.

Cash Bond

If you pay the full amount of the bond set by the judge, it is called a cash bond, and the money will be refunded to you when your case is finalized.

Bail Bond

If you use a bonding company, they will guarantee your bail payment and charge you a fee. Once your case is finalized, the fee you paid won’t be returned to you.

Personal Recognizance Bond

The court, in its discretion, can also release you without requiring collateral of any kind, which is called being released on personal recognizance.

Your Arraignment

At arraignment, the court will provide you with a copy of the complaint or indictment against you. Additionally, the charge against you will be read in open court, and you’ll be called upon to enter your plea through your dedicated criminal defense attorney.

At this point, either side can request a continuance, and the judge will determine whether or not there is sufficient cause for granting it. Continuances are generally pursued as a means of further investigating cases by either side.

At arraignment, the prosecution is typically called upon to do all the following things:

  • Allow your attorney access to its file, which should include the police report

  • Enter into plea negotiations with your attorney or convey an offer

  • Entertain your requests for access to evidence and requests to make copies of evidence, including 911 calls, videos and photos taken at the scene, and any confessions

Throughout the trial process, you will maintain all the following rights:

  • You must be presumed innocent until you are proven guilty.

  • Your guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, which is a high legal bar.

  • You do not have to incriminate yourself, which means you can’t be made to testify.

  • You should have a speedy trial by an impartial jury of your peers.

  • You can cross-examine any of the witnesses on the prosecution’s side.

  • You can appeal the jury or the judge’s verdict in your case.

You also have the right to waive many of the above rights, but doing so is ill-advised without the careful legal guidance of a practiced Leander criminal defense attorney.

Pretrial Hearings and Procedures

There are a range of early procedures and hearings that are designed to keep your case moving forward.

Bond Reduction Hearing

If your bail is set too high, your attorney will very likely request a bail reduction hearing at which they’ll need to show that all the following factors apply:

  • You don’t have the collateral to cover the high bond.

  • You are not a flight risk.

  • You have ties to the community.

  • You don’t pose a danger to the public or to the victim in the case.

If your bail is denied, you are entitled to a hearing within 48 hours of your arrest.

Suppression Hearings

Suppression hearings are designed to suppress evidence or statements that shouldn’t be allowed at trial. This hearing can examine evidence that was obtained through improper search or seizure or statements that qualify as hearsay rather than as evidence.

Plea Negotiations

Your defense attorney will likely negotiate with the prosecution to have your charge dropped altogether, to have your charge reduced, or to minimize the related sentencing requirements. Your attorney is required to share all reasonable offers made by the state with you – at which point, it becomes your decision whether or not to accept.

A plea bargain will likely require you to plead either guilty or no contest. Whether the court accepts the mutually agreed upon plea bargain is up to the judge’s discretion, but if it isn’t, you can withdraw your guilty plea. The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved with plea bargains in one form or another.


In the State of Texas, you (or your attorney who is acting on your behalf) have the right to access all the evidence held by the prosecution that sheds light on your case. It’s important to note, however, that requests for the review of documents and evidence must be made in a timely manner – there is no automatic discovery.

While you – as the defendant – have the right to examine evidence that the state has against you, this right does not extend to the prosecution’s legal strategy for your case, which includes documents created by the state and communications within the state.

The Three Trial Phases

There are potentially three phases to every criminal trial.

Jury Selection

If you proceed to trial, it will begin with jury selection, which is called “voir dire.” The idea is for both sides to weed out jurors who aren’t qualified to serve – often due to biases – or who are considered unfavorable for the case at hand. In misdemeanor cases, the first six jurors remaining are selected to serve. In felony cases, the first twelve jurors remaining are selected to serve.

The Guilty or Not Guilty Phase

During this phase of your trial, the prosecution will attempt to prove your guilt, and your focused Leander criminal defense attorney will present your strongest defense, which will likely include all the following actions:

  • Cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses

  • Calling defense witnesses to the stand, including any expert witnesses

  • Presenting evidence in support of your innocence

  • Weaving a compelling alternative to the prosecution’s take on the case

The Sentencing Phase – If Convicted

If you do not prevail and are convicted, the next phase in the process is sentencing. Working closely with a formidable Leander criminal defense attorney from the start greatly improves your chances of achieving an advantageous outcome and avoiding the sentencing phase altogether.


Unless you give up your right to appeal as part of a plea bargain or an agreement you made with the prosecution, you can appeal a conviction. There are several phases involved.

Filing a Motion for New Trial

In some unique instances, motions for new trials are granted. These are generally based on significant findings, such as jury misconduct. While motions for new trials are granted sparingly, filing may be advised in your case. Your accomplished criminal defense attorney will help you strategize your next steps forward.

Filing a Notice of Appeal

The time frame for filing a notice of appeal is brief and strictly enforced, which makes acting quickly critical. This filing begins the appeal process by alerting the court to your intentions. It’s important to note that the appeal court will only allow an appeal based on one of the following two conditions:

  • When the lower court’s decision is deemed wrong

  • When the outcome of your case is deemed unjust due to a serious procedural irregularity in the lower court

Appellate courts are warned against interfering with trial judges’ findings of fact unless there is a compelling reason for doing so.

Filing the Record on Appeal

Next comes the preparation and filing of the record on appeal. This record generally includes the clerk’s record, which is prepared by the trial court clerk, and the reporter’s record, which is prepared by the trial court reporter and is filed directly with the court of appeals. The record on appeal represents all the information that the appeal court will use to review the case.

Filling the Appellate Brief

The final step in the appeal process is preparing and filing the briefs on appeal, which are intended to aid the appellate court regarding the facts of the case, its history, and the legal issues involved.

Final Outcomes

From here, the appellate court begins its decision-making process. The complexity of the case will guide how much time is required. If you lose your appeal, one of the only options available is filing for review with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals – the highest criminal court in the state – which grants relatively few reviews.

Seek the Legal Guidance of an Experienced Leander Criminal Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard is a seasoned Leander criminal defense attorney with the experience, legal insight, and drive to help you resolve your case favorably. Learn more about what we can do to help you by reaching out to contact us online or call us at (254) 781-4222 to schedule your FREE consultation today.

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